Since World War One and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has set its roots firmly in secular values.
Kemal Ataturk, the first president of the Turkish Republic in 1923, was the leading figure driving Turkey to economic, social and cultural reform. His agenda equalised the civil rights of men and women, and created a free and compulsory education system. This secularism, albeit heavily reliant on the support of the armed forces, for the most part remained throughout the 20th century. Despite its flaws Turkey has, until recently, always presented itself to the world as the exemplary Muslim nation-state, a bulwark and example against the violence that has embroiled the Middle East.
This tradition is in decay. Under President Erdoğan, fundamentalist Islamism has crept back onto the political agenda, which has eroded the liberties of many groups in the country. State censorship has come into play, and the suppression and arrest of dissidents, political rivals and journalists is now not uncommon in Turkey. Even Wikipedia was banned in April of this year, betraying the exchange of Turkey’s secularism with a sinister war on empirical and encyclopaedic truth.
Turkey has been a bulwark against violence in the Middle East
With the recent shutting down of LGBT events in Istanbul and Ankara, many in the community are voicing genuine concern not only for their civil liberties, but their safety itself. In this environment of hostility and intolerance, backed by Erdoğan’s administration, the ever-emboldened authorities have a greater inclination to move against groups that are considered to be a threat.
Where is the outrage? Where are our sanctimonious leaders, so willingly critical of the likes of Russia, Syria, Myanmar and Venezuela? There are two unfortunate answers. The first can be linked to a complete lack of American moral leadership. With Donald Trump’s penchant for trusting Putin over the CIA, his America-First global apathy is emboldening countries across the world to violate the world order that the USA has attempted to secure since World War Two. The second is the sad truth that as a NATO member with close proximity with Syria, the Crimea and Russia, Western leaders are entirely unable to criticise Turkey for fear of losing a key ally in those crucial theatres.
One could certainly be forgiven for thinking that the age of global conflict is over, that the archaic 20th century dogmas of authoritarianism, censorship and military tension have been learned from. What the Turkish example illustrates perfectly, is that once a country has been liberalised, there certainly is a way back - and with this in mind, our liberal democratic way of life seems just that bit more fragile.
Whilst the authenticity of the 2016 failed coup d’état in Turkey remains dubious, what remains beyond question is the totalitarian manner in which Recep Tayipp Erdoğan has consolidated power and turned Turkey into a nation with severe limits on liberty.
The past 16 months are proof that Turkey is no longer a free country. These 16 months have seen the shutdown of nearly 187 media outlets and 3,003 universities; the dismissal of 4,463 judges and prosecutors; the sacking of 150,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics. According to recent figures, Erdoğan has jailed more journalists than any other nation on earth. Turkey’s slide from a beacon of a modern and secular state to a nationalist regime of restricted freedoms has been as swift as it has been worrying.
Such frightening figures don’t even mention the serious reports of the genocide of Kurdish peoples in the south east of the country, or the rape, torture and murder of detainees in prisons, which international aid and human rights organisations have been barred from investigating.
The recent curtailment of all queer events in Ankara should therefore comes as no surprise. In the wake of this further curb on social, sexual and personal liberty, President Erdoğan stated that ‘gay representation was at odds with Turkish values.’ Regrettably, as far as official governmental Turkish policy goes, this is very much true, and has increasingly been the case in recent years. Indeed, in Turkey’s current state, the nomenclature of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seemore than cruelly ironic. Despite fierce pushback from supporters, the last three consecutive years of Gay Pride rallies in Ankara and Istanbul have been shut down by riot police with water cannons. Unlike many Muslim nations, homosexuality remains legal, however such restrictions suggest that this may not remain the case for long.
Turkey has turned into an authoritarian nation with severe limits on liberty
I spoke to Turkish national and pansexual, Birce Didar, 27, of Istanbul, who stated that recent measures ‘legitimise violations and encourages hate crimes against the LGBTI community. It is a huge step backward for the protection of basic human rights, and puts more pressure on the queer community, instead of securing equality and freedom as we have recently witnessed in more liberal countries such as Australia. This leaves us with nothing but despair for the future of Turkey.’
The response from Europe and Downing Street has largely been that of silence. This is to be expected, given how complicit the EU has been in the suffering of many of those trapped in Turkey. It also served to strengthen Erdoğan’s political position to Turks in the run-up to the referendum, which gave him sweeping presidential powers to dismiss ministers as he saw fit. Blood is on the EU’s hands, and our government knows it, which is why they choose not to denounce such crimes.
This leaves us with nothing but despair for the future of Turkey
Sweden’s law, allowing the country’s courts to judge cases of alleged crimes against humanity, regardless of where they have been committed or by whom, has allowed a handful of politicians to file a genocide complaint against the authoritarian Turkish President. The introduction of similar measures would be progressive, but I expect that it will not happen.
The British influence of power extends far beyond the borders of our country, and it is time that we act like it. We won’t see a similar law passed for fear that too many of those who govern us would be forced to acknowledge that they could have done more to protect others.